Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker testifies
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the Republican ranking member of the House judiciary, blasted Democrats on the committee for a hearing he believed is "nothing more than a character assassination," and called Thursday's preemptive subpoena, which Democrats issued in case acting attorney general Matt Whitaker refused to answer questions, "pure political theater."
Collins, who represents a district that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, compared Democrats to children searching for Easter eggs, hoping to find something damaging to the President.
"I want to tell you a story: My kids are now grown. They're 26 and down to 20. And I used to alway love the Easter season, and the time of especially hide and seek and going to find the eggs, and that look on their face when they found that last egg they were looking for. And just that look of surprise.
"And yesterday was that for me again. I was back being a father again. Because yesterday was nothing but pure political theater. It was wonderful! It was a time for hide and seek. The chairman had a hearing, 'Let's do a subpoena, we're going to stand tough.'"
Collins said he "warned this committee a preemptive subpoena wasn't a good idea," and said it could have a "detrimental effect to the acting attorney general."
"But hey, I'm the minority, who cares?" he asked.
About the subpoena: The committee preemptively authorized a subpoena to use if Whitaker avoids questions. The Justice Department said Whitaker would not testify without assurance he would not be subpoenaed — and the committee chair said he would would not use it if Whitaker was prepared to answer questions.
Watch the moment here:
In his opening statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler criticized acting AG Matt Whitaker for refusing to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation.
Ethics officials had recommended that Whitaker, having previously called the investigation a "lynch mob," recuse himself.
"Why did you ignore the career officials who went to extraordinary lengths to tell you that your continued involvement in the Special Counsel’s work would undermine the credibility of the Department of Justice?" Nadler asked in his statement.
He asked a series of other questions, warning, “"Your failure to respond fully to our questions here today in no way limits the ability of this Committee to get the answers in the long run—even if you are a private citizen when we finally learn the truth.”
"Although I am willing to work with the Department to obtain this information, I will not allow that process to drag out for weeks and months. The time for this Administration to postpone accountability is over," Nadler said.
The House Judiciary Committee's oversight hearing is underway, and acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is seated in front of the committee members.
Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, is delivering his opening statements.
There's been some back-and-forth between Whitaker and Nadler: Nadler's committee pre-emptively authorized a subpoena to use if Whitaker avoids questions. The Justice Department yesterday said Whitaker would not testify without assurance he would not be subpoenaed — and Nadler eventually wrote back that he would would not use it if Whitaker was prepared to answer questions.
You can watch it live in the video player above.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is about to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Here's what to expect, according to CNN's Manu Raju:
- The schedule: The hearing will start with five-minute statements from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Rep. Doug Collins, and Whitaker. 41 panelists, with both Democrats and Republicans, will then have five minutes each to grill Whitaker.
- The questions: The committee is expected to press Whitaker about his views on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, any actions he's taken related to the probe, and his decision not to recuse from the special counsel investigation after Justice Department ethics officials recommended he do so.
- His response: In a prepared opening statement, Whitaker said he would "answer the Committee’s questions today, as best as I can." However, he said he may cite executive privilege and confidentiality when it comes to questions about conversations with Trump. It's not clear whether he will face a subpoena if he does not answer certain questions.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker submitted a statement this morning to the House Judiciary Committee, shortly before he is due to testify at 9:30 a.m. ET.
In the statement, Whitaker detailed the Justice Department's recent work, including its work on violent crime. He ends by noting that though he will cooperate with the Committee "as best as I can," he will protect executive privilege regarding "deliberations or conversations" with President Trump.
"I trust that the Members of this Committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the Presidency—just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the Legislative Branch," he wrote.
Read it here:
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will be facing an intense grilling by members of House Judiciary Committee today.
Whitaker has been undertaking significant preparations ahead of the hearing, including conducting briefings with every the Justice Department component and participating in several mock hearings, according to the officials.
Here's what we know about Whitaker and his role in the DOJ:
- He took control of the Justice Department a few months ago: President Trump appointed Whitaker to the position after firing former attorney general Jeff Sessions a day after the 2018 midterm elections. Whitaker was Sessions' chief of staff.
- Whitaker oversees the Russia probe: He disregarded the advice of a Justice Department ethics official to step aside from overseeing Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
- He criticized Mueller's investigation before becoming AG: Some of Whitaker's comments about Mueller in 2017 mirrored Trump's complaints. In one instance, speaking on the "Rose Unplugged" radio program in August 2017, Whitaker said the appointment of Mueller was "ridiculous" and it "smells a little fishy."
- He's almost out: William Barr is on a path to be confirmed as the permanent attorney general by the Senate.
The Justice Department told the House Judiciary Committee on yesterday afternoon that acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker would not appear at today's closely-watched oversight hearing unless he receives a written assurance he won't be served with a subpoena.
The threat for Whitaker not to testify came after the House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to authorize a subpoena for Whitaker ahead of his testimony — which House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said he would use only if Whitaker did not appear or would not answer the committee's questions, including about conversations with the White House involving special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
The DOJ's letter: The Justice Department, in a letter, criticized Nadler for authorizing the subpoena "even though the Committee had not yet asked him a single question" and suggested Democrats were seeking to "transform the hearing into a public spectacle."
"The committee evidently seeks to ask questions about confidential presidential communications that no attorney general could ever be expected to disclose under the circumstances," Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in the letter, obtained by CNN.
Nadler responded to the letter by telling Whitaker that a subpoena would not be necessary if he answered lawmakers' questions, and questions he would not be able to answer would be handled on a "case-by-case basis."
Read a portion of Nadler's response:
If you appear before the Committee tomorrow morning and if you are prepared to respond to questions from our Members, then I assure you that there will be no need for the Committee to issue a subpoena on or before February 8. To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis, both during and after tomorrow’s hearing."